Turning around failing departments

KEYNOTE 6th Form Conference
June 2011
Post-it exercise
On a Post-it note, write down what you
would look for to characterise a department
as ‘underachieving’
Then think…As a manager, how would you
become aware of these characteristics?
Plan for this session
• Explore reasons why departments
• Look at scenarios of underachieving
• Discuss practical strategies to manage the
change and lead a turn around to
Characteristics of an
‘underachieving’ department
• Poor results
– raw results; pass rates, high grades, success rates,
retention, value added, comparison to college and
national averages…
• Low grading in Self-assessment or internal
quality review processes
• Poor student satisfaction surveys, learner
feedback, student complaints
• Complaints from parents
• Complaints from staff within the department
Must Try
What is the economy of a college?
The easiest way to turn a
department around?
Change the staffing…
…BUT you didn’t come
here today to hear that!
Scenarios – What would you do?
1. New College has a
brilliant Art department.
The design department
has very poor results
and low morale amongst
staff and students.
3. The Arabic
department has an
inspirational HOD but is
not getting high grade
N.B. All Scenarios are fictional
2. New College has a
Media department with a
variety of courses on
offer. They have
dedicated staff but a
disinterested HOD.
4. A new HOD is
appointed for English in
a ‘traditional’ department
with average results.
Scenario 1: The Design Department
• There is clearly expertise within the
college – utilise this
• Change the Design syllabus to the same
specification as the Art one
• Ask the HOD Art to mentor HOD Design
through changes to course
• Upward spiral… better results, increase in
satisfaction, higher staff and student
morale, increase in results…
"If you pick the right people and give them
the opportunity to spread their wings, you
almost don't have to manage them”
— Jack Welch
Scenario 2: Media Department
• Look at the course offer. Rationalise and
strip out the ‘dead wood’
• If possible create ‘pathway leaders’ (small
off-spine payment?) for AS/A2 Media, Film
and BTEC
• Manage the HOD – competency? Action
plan, attend department meetings yourself,
clear focus on looking ahead – moderation,
shared resources, coursework, resources
"I believe the real difference between
success and failure in a corporation can be
traced to how well the organisation brings
out the energies and talents of its people"
— Thomas J. Watson, Jr.
A Business and its Beliefs (1963)
Scenario 3: Arabic department
• Are high grades the only issue? There is
probably low value added too
• Look at other Arabic departments/results
• Internal Quality Review
• Inspirational in the classroom, but what is the
student survey saying about other issues?
• ‘Scaffolding’ – benchmark assessments; joined
up process of assessment and feedback
Scaffolding – Benchmark Assessments
Don't equate activity with efficiency
— Harvey Mackay
Scenario 4: English Department
• New enthusiastic HOD = opportunity for
• ‘Traditional’ department, wary of change
• Pace yourself! It won’t happen in 1 day
• Choose your battles
• Play to their strengths
• Evidence based approach
• External training… tension/change is not
then coming from the HOD
"Never try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes
your time and it annoys the pig."
— Paul Dickson
In a nutshell…
Change specification
Actively manage HOD
Existing HOD mentoring Review course provision
Invest in existing staff
Dig deeper
Put scaffolding around
Pace the change
Evidence based
External training
One-size does not fit all
• Massive amount of variables involved in why
there is underachievement
• Dealing with people at every step
• Hard headed management approach Vs
shepherding, guidance, encouragement
• Evidence based approach
• Need for clear actions and targets
• Set high expectations and use the Professional
Review, Internal Quality Review and Self
assessment processes at every stage

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